The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Leaving a man to rot on Death Row, despite proof of innocence

Oct 11, 2004

The judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati recently ruled 8 for conviction and execution, 6 for innocence and 1 for a new trial in the case of a man found guilty of murder in Tennessee in 1985. The case had come before the Appeals Court due to new DNA evidence.

Paul House had been convicted of killing his neighbor Carolyn Muncey. The prosecution said she was raped, which was the motive for the murder, and their experts testified the semen matched House's blood type. In fact, DNA analysis – which wasn't available at the time – showed that the semen in reality came only from Carolyn Muncey's husband Hubert. The likelihood that he raped her was backed up by the testimony of witnesses who said in court that the husband was an alcoholic who beat his wife. Three witnesses said the husband told them he killed her when he was drunk.

How is it possible that the majority of Appeals Court judges, confronted by such evidence, ruled to go ahead with his execution? They argued that the new evidence wasn't introduced at the time of the original trial! Little matter that DNA testing didn't even exist then. For these judges, it isn't a question whether House is guilty or innocent, but of insisting that no late evidence can be introduced.

Undoubtedly this case will be appealed up the ladder, and it might well be overturned. But how outrageous is a so-called justice system that decides matters only by timeliness? A system that could maintain an innocent man in prison and even put him to death because of bureaucratic rules has nothing to do with justice.